Hello from the future–14 hours ahead! This summer, I’ll be blogging from Seoul, South Korea, where I’m taking Korean language classes.
With hazy smog, quad-crushing hills, and streets choked with 20-million inhabitants, Seoul is not, at first glance, a runner’s paradise.
But with Korean blood running through my veins, I like to think that I’m predisposed for a natural stubbornness and goal-driven attitude. I’m going to find ways to run here, and that’s that.
The area that I’m staying in, Gwanak-gu, is not very runner-friendly. My host family’s apartment complex is situated on the top of a gigantic hill, so all routes end in pain and misery. Moreover, the streets are crowded with people, and Seoul drivers are not willing to cede the road to anyone.
I don’t have a death wish, so you won’t see me out on the roads during the day.
This week, I’ve been going for short jogs around the 0.8-mile perimeter of the exercise park in the apartment complex. (More on this later. It is its own hilarious story) Mostly, I’m planning to stay in shape by walking as much as possible and taking the stairs to the tenth-floor every day.
How do Koreans stay in shape? Well, my host mom swims three times a week and practices golf in an indoor driving range in the apartment complex:
Before I left for Seoul, I scouted out the local running club, The Seoul Flyers. Composed of Koreans and ex-pats, this group seemed like the perfect venue for meeting other runners and getting in some quality miles.
This morning, at 7am, I threw on my running gear and took the subway to the Han River, where I met up with the club. Like most running groups, they were immediately welcoming and happy to meet a new face.
One group took off for a 10K, while I settled in with the 5K group for a Saturday morning fun-run. We ran an out-and-back loop on the north side of the Han river, which has a nice paved trail. As we ran, we passed other runners, bikers, and walkers. I was relieved to find people who ran my pace, and it was refreshing to speak English after the daily game of charades I’ve been playing with my home stay family.
I wish I could say something really interesting about running with the Seoul Flyers, but perhaps it is the non-uniqueness that made it so special. The simplicity of running makes it universal. It was one of the only times this past week that I’ve been able to do something “normal” without struggling through the language barrier or feeling out of my element.
Yes, even in Korea, I still run a middle-of-the-pack pace and sweat through my dri-fit gear.
Runners here are still, for the most part, warm and generous people, swapping race stories and preparing for the next race challenge. Just like in Champaign, they come in all shapes and sizes.
And you know what else was familiar?
Going out for carbs after the run! Except I’m sad to report that “bagels” here are a poor imitation of their American counterparts–a true baking travesty. And peanut butter? Try $23 for two large jars!
I’ll continue to check in this summer, updating you on the Seoul running scene, so I hope you’ll follow along. Please feel free to leave a comment, with questions or suggestions for posts! And if you want to check out my non-running adventures, you can hop over to my personal blog MicaPie too.